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Doing Math with Python

Publisher: No Starch Press

I remember buying my first Python book circa 2000 and hearing from a developer colleague that Python was "cool, but probably not going to be a big thing." So many years later, Python has become a fixture in at least the web dev community and is being actively used in a large number of other applications. Its original appeal for me as a hobbyist was a similarity to the BASIC language I learned on as a kid. Python today retains this "easy for beginners" quality, but is also great as a powerhouse programming tool. Doing Math With Python by Amit Saha is the book I wish Iíd been able to buy back in 2000, because it gives the hobbyist developer or Python newcomer a great entry-point to the language.

Because letís face it: If youíre a hobbyist without a stream of gnarly problems that Python is uniquely equipped to solve, you wonít use what you learn. That was absolutely my challenge back in the early days of the modern WWW; Python was useful in a few select ways, but hobbyist projects (much less mainstream applications) were few and far between. Doing Math With Python is great for gaining a very basic understanding of Python and quickly turning that into something with real-world application. Along the way, youíll deepen your skills in the language. That said, this book isnít the easiest way to do your high school math homework, so itís probably best suited to the hobbyist developer who wants one stone to kill two birds. And after all, learning more advanced math skills is fuel to the fire in terms of mastering some more advanced programming concepts.

With all those caveats out of the way, a bit about how Doing Math With Python is structured. Mentioned before briefly, but worth stressing, is that youíll benefit from at least some rudimentary understanding of Python prior to reading this book. Even a quick read of the Beginnerís Guide at will help you grasp the fundamentals of the language. Doing Math With Python dedicates just a few pages to remedial language concepts before jumping into writing full programs. The same is true of math skills. If youíre not waist deep in at least Algebra II or something more advanced, youíre going to spend more time scratching your head than learning useful lessons. Itís true that you can at least copy the examples from the book, but the key to really making the most out of Doing Math With Python is coming in with a solid understanding the math concepts so you, in turn, can understand what Python adds to the equation.

Doing Math With Python spends a good amount of time on the command line and text-based examples early on, showing at first how the interactive shell can be used like a calculator on steroids. Youíll quickly see how thinking of Python like a calculator is like using a Formula-1 race car to drive a few blocks and pick up groceriesÖ The book quickly jumps from command-line exploration to writing simple programs that grab user input and use simple concepts like modules, classes, variables, and loops to perform tasks that would otherwise be incredibly time consuming by hand or with a calculator. This is still just a fraction of Pythonís true power, of course. Subsequent chapters build on your nascent programming skills by exploring how Python visualization can help you create charts, graphs, and plots. At this point, weíre entering the realm of things that you could do in a spreadsheet, but with relatively limited flexibility. Halfway through the book, Doing Math With Python has given you command of Python as a tool for automating some relatively complex algebra and statistical scenarios, and this is picked up on later with visual exploration of geometry.

Specialized topics and specialized tools in Python are addressed, and always with a nod toward cross-platform development. Too many times weíve seen books that assume youíll be working on a single platform, but one of the basic tenets of Python is that it can be run on almost anything. New tools are accompanied by an explanation of how to install and use them, whether at a command-line/module/library level, or standalone products like Anaconda. More advanced math topics are also covered, all the way up to calculus and probability. The core of the pedagogy behind Doing Math With Python feels like algebra, which is a good thing since that should at least apply across every high-school equivalent math program.

If youíre not a high-school math student, teacher, or parent, there are a few reasons this book may appeal to you. Itís a terrifically practical way to jump into programming Python and has some especially nice points connecting the work you do here to the kind of analysis you might be called on to do in a business or research setting. Not to say this is required reading for future data scientists, but itís recognition that the world of Python has moved way past parsing log files and creating simple interactive CLI programs. Itís not the shortest distance between your budding math student and completing her homework, but it has the potential to make math seem a lot more interesting. At the very least, your understand of math concepts will deepen, and along the way youíll be learning a hugely popularĖand practicalĖprogramming language.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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